Posts Tagged With: Today’s World

How to Force a Recall Election for the SF School Board

It is difficult for children, especially young children, to learn over Zoom. It is more difficult to teach critical skills like learning to read and write over Zoom. As Heather Knight and others have noted, keeping children isolated has severe impacts on their mental health.

It is the Mayor's top priority to get children back in schools. It is inexcusable that the San Francisco School District Board has not gotten children back in schools. The children who are most harmed by this failure are low income children in the Southeastern neighborhoods. Every single candidate for School Board last fall highlighted the importance of equity but has been unwilling to do what it takes to reduce inequality on this issue, the biggest one they will face while elected - get children back in schools so they can learn to read.

Even if you are not a parent, you should be interested in this issue. Who is going to want to move to San Francisco if the school system is not interested in educating students? If I had school age kids I would be looking for anything to get my kids back in school and doing things that are normal for kids to do. Keeping kids at home is not good for the community.

There are seven members on the SFUSD School Board. Four Board members were just elected in November and cannot be recalled until May 3, 2021. The other three can be recalled immediately. To force a recall election, you need to collect the signatures of 10% of the city's voters, around 51,000 votes.

Every recall election has signatures thrown out because they are signed by people who aren't residents or signatures or addresses don't match. So you probably need to collect twice as many signatures - around 95,000 signatures. There are about 515,000 voters in San Francisco, and around 100,000 parents of students in the SFUSD school system.

You can either get volunteers to collect signatures door to door or pay signature collectors about $8 to $15 per signature, or a mix of both. So you are looking at around $76,000 to $1,400,000 for a fully professional recall campaign. I can get you in touch with people who can collect signatures.

That said, you may not need to collect all the signatures. The goal is to put political pressure on the Board. The threat of a recall election was enough to get Gavin Newsom to change his behavior, and it may be enough here as well.

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Decline the 15 Minute Post-Vaccination Waiting Period

In very rare cases, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will cause the person being vaccinated to have an allergic reaction. When I say very rare, I mean it; the chances are a few in a million, or about the same of picking a specific resident of Newark, New Jersey at random out of the phone book.

Because of this chance, the pharmacy/hospital/vaccination site will ask you to wait around for 15 minutes after getting the shot so they can check whether you have an allergic reaction. Most places (scroll through the list on Vaccinate CA) administering the shot are doing so indoors in windowless rooms. People - right now, seniors and others with high exposure to COVID - are being asked to wait for 15 minutes in crowded waiting rooms.

However - waiting in a cramped room indoors is exactly how COVID spreads! Sure, most people are probably wearing masks. But the new B.117 variant is more dangerous and, anecdotally, can get past a cloth mask much more easily. Right after getting the vaccine, but before it has kicked in, we are asking people to huddle in basically the ideal location for transmitting COVID, all to avoid a miniscule risk of an allergic reaction. Not only is this extremely dangerous but it's a huge waste of vaccine - if we know you are going to get COVID today, we shouldn't give you protection against COVID starting a week from now.

The risk of not spotting someone who has an allergic reaction must be weighed against the risk of transmitting COVID. Right now about 3% of the US population is infected with COVID. So about 1 in every 30 people in a vaccination waiting room (likely higher due to selection effects) will be infected with COVID and transmit it to others. About 1-2% of people who get COVID will die from it and more will be hospitalized. Contrast this with about a 1 in ~180,000 risk of an allergic reaction. It's just not comparable.

If you are offered the vaccine, and the waiting area is indoors, I would urge you to decline to wait. Explain that waiting indoors with other unvaccinated1 people is not safe, and then wait outside. You can call someone on the phone for 15 minutes who can monitor you for side effects. Or, walk back in after 15 minutes, tell the pharmacist you are OK, and then leave.

You are not breaking the law by doing this and you are aware of the risks. The more people that choose to do this, the more pressure we can put on vaccinators and public health agencies to end this dangerous practice, and offer waiting areas that are well spaced outdoors.

So many people are dying every day and a vaccine is so close now that small changes will have a huge impact on the total number of people hospitalized and dead. Please share this post with someone you know who is getting vaccinated soon.

Thanks to Michael Story for bringing this issue up.

1. The vaccine takes a week to kick in so for all intents and purposes you are still unvaccinated minutes after you have received the shot.

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How to Get a Human Operator on the California EDD Paid Family Leave line

The California EDD Paid Family Leave phone tree is like a choose your own adventure book, where almost every option leaves you with no option to contact a human. This can be frustrating. But you can reach a human if you know the right buttons to press!

Here is how to reach a human:

  • Call the EDD Paid Family Leave number at 877-238-4373.

  • Press '1' for "benefit information."

  • Follow the prompts to enter your SSN, zip code, date of birth, and weekly benefit amount.

  • The computer will read you an automated list of information about your claim.

The computer will then read a list of prompts. Wait!! After the computer asks if you want to go back to the main menu it will say "press 0 to speak to a human." Press 0 and then wait and you should get a human!

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To Predict If You’ll Like a Beer, Look at the Hops

Generally if you name a food or drink, people know whether they like it or not. It is rare for someone to drink a merlot, or try pizza from a new restaurant — toasted bread, melted cheese, tomato sauce and toppings - and be wildly surprised at their reaction to the taste.

I can't quite figure that out for pale ales though. Some pale ales and IPA's had flavors I really liked, and some had flavors I really disliked. I had a tough time predicting which ones I would like and not like.

I had some suspicions - I didn't think I liked beers with much higher ABV than normal or beers that had citrus in them. But I also liked some beers with high ABV and one of my favorite "everyone has it" beers - Sierra Nevada - describes itself as "pine and citrus," so that wasn't quite right.

Anyway, I decided to be somewhat rigorous about this and order a few different types of beers from the bottle shop, and then figure out what I liked or didn't like about them. It turns out the key is the hops - there are some hop varieties (Cascade, Chinook, Noble) that I like a lot, and other hop varieties (Citra, Galaxy, Enigma, others) that I don't at all. If the hop description mentions passion fruit, I probably won't like it. Other than that, I can keep lists.

This is both satisfying - I can predict which beers I will like and not like, now — and frustrating. Why is this so difficult for consumers to figure out? Why does the category definition of "pale ale" include so much stuff? Like imagine if you ordered a "cheese pizza", and sometimes it would come with anchovies and sometimes with pineapple, and sometimes with nothing. People would demand better words to describe the differences between the things.

If you have ideas or answers, I would love to hear from you.

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Using a Bernzomatic TS8000 Kitchen Torch to Sear Meat

For a company trying to sell and explain a product, a lot of this information was amazingly difficult to find so I wrote this.

For the rest of this we'll assume you're cooking a steak but the same advice applies to most other meats/cuts.

Why Do You Want A Torch to Sear Meat

To get a good texture on a steak, you need to get the outside of the steak really hot. If you keep the steak on the heat source for too long, though, it will start to cook the inside too much, and you'll end up with a well done steak.

A torch helps with this problem by making it possible to sear the outside of the steak very quickly which means the outside can get a nice sear while the inside stays at medium rare.

What to Get

You want a torch that can char the surface of a steak in under a minute. Most of the torches can't actually get that hot!

I used a butane crème brûlée torch for years and would get frustrated my steaks didn't look like the ones on Serious Eats, unless I torched them for 5-6 minutes. The torch wasn't hot enough. Using a cast iron pan by itself, even on the highest setting is also not likely to get hot enough. If your steak does not look as black as the one in Serious Eats the outside is not getting hot enough.

I read the Wirecutter guide and got the Bernzomatic TS8000. This torch is definitely hot enough; with propane it's about 3x as hot as my crème brûlée torch. I used it tonight to sear a tri tip. It is so much better.

Is that it? (No, you need fuel)

No. The Bernzomatic torch is just a torch; you still need to buy fuel. The TS8000 works with either butane or propane. You don't want butane though, you want propane, because it gets 50% hotter than butane does.

Every photo on the Internet of both the TS8000 and propane fuel tanks either shows them connected or with the caps on. You need a propane tank that can connect to this, on the bottom of the TS8000.

The top of your propane canister should look like this, with the cap off:

Bernzomatic sells a compatible 14 oz propane tank. You can also use the green Coleman camping gas tanks. The advantage of the Coleman tank is it is cheap and your grocery/hardware store probably has them. It weighs 16 ounces full, which sounds heavy but, it's fine, it's what I used.

I tried to find a small tank - 5-10 ounces - but didn't find anything promising. You'll probably get something in the 12-16 ounce range. Just put it on the end of the torch and sear with the whole tank on the end of the torch.

Summary

  • Get the Bernzomatic TS8000, it is one of the few torches that gets hot enough

  • Use propane, not butane, with it

  • Coleman camping gas tanks are fine

That's it. Here is the manual for the TS8000. Happy searing!

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Improving Bike+Bus Routes through Belmont Village

Belmont is evaluating pedestrian and bike improvements to Ralston Avenue. These improvements build on the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan.

There is pretty good cycle access all the way from the eastern tip of Foster City to the Belmont Caltrain station.

However, the cycling access from the Caltrain station to Safeway, NDNU or Carlmont Village falls down a little bit. There is a huge intersection at Ralston and ECR with no bike paths. The bike plan says cyclists should ride on Emmett past City Hall and rejoin Ralston further west, but there are no bike lanes in this area.

Emmett has no bike lanes and parking on both sides.

If you are riding east it is difficult to get from Emmett to the Caltrain station - cars can make a left turn across two lanes of ECR into fast moving traffic and then merge right, but this is dicey on a bike. I usually ride on the sidewalk past the Panda Express to the intersection. The sidewalk is narrow and passes the ECR Rapid bus stop.

The bike plan (page 72) calls for a HAWK crossing at ECR and Emmett to allow bikes to get across, then a bike lane on the east side of ECR. HAWK intersections are confusing for drivers, and no guarantee for ped/bike safety - your author recently spotted an instruction sign for drivers on the side of the road near a HAWK beacon on El Camino Real in Redwood City.

It would also require cyclists to make a dangerous crossing across ECR that no one currently attempts, cross the driveway for the parking lot, and add an additional stop that reduces vehicle/SamTrans ECR bus levels of service along El Camino Real.

How else could we get bikes from Caltrain to Emmett? One idea would be to have a two-way cycle track on the south side of ECR where there is currently a bus stop and a lane of parked cars. The bus would stop in the lane on ECR, like in this photo - we wouldn't have enough room for a bench to the left of the cycle track, but this should give the basic idea.

This would do a few different things, all of them good.

First, it does not introduce an additional stopping point for cars and SamTrans buses along El Camino Real, which means those roads will have a higher level of service.

Second, it would remove the need for a dangerous HAWK crossing and add a protected path on a dangerous section of road for cyclists. Particularly if you are heading east toward Caltrain, there are currently no good options for getting to the station.

Third, it would make the bus faster. Bus speeds are a problem for SamTrans that led to the introduction of the "ECR Rapid" bus route. Part of the problem are stops that require the bus to pull over, load passengers, then wait for a gap in traffic before merging back in. In-lane boarding would allow the bus to continue its journey without needing to merge back into traffic, saving up to 40 seconds per trip.

Fourth, it would likely be faster, by allowing bikes to piggy back on the existing pedestrian crossing at Ralston and ECR. HAWK beacons require all traffic to wait for the beacon to stop traffic, which can take thirty seconds or more.

Fifth, it could permit installation of an ADA compliant bus stop. The current bus stop offloads onto a brick sidewalk on a slope, intermixed with trees. A treatment in the cycle track segment could include a level boarding space for wheelchairs.

There are some problems, notably that there is not much room for this. Curb-to-median, this stretch of El Camino Real is 32 feet. The preferable alternative would be a bike lane protected by a bus island, like this one on Church St. in San Francisco. We can't do this because the recommended minimum width for bus islands is 8 feet, space that we don't have.

There is a one foot gutter next to the median and the car lanes are 10 feet each, giving us 11 feet for a 4 foot cycle track in each direction, plus a small buffer zone between the track and the car lane, which could include a railing for additional safety. The entire cycle track/buffer would be raised to the level of the current curb.

If you moved the limit line on ECR on the south side of Ralston back ten feet, you could add a treatment like this for crossing ECR on your bike:

Which would result in a bike route through town like this, in both directions.

What do you think? I am not super happy with this design, but I'm not sure how else cyclists should be expected to get from Emmett St. to the Caltrain station. Moving the bus boarding in-lane would be a big win.

There is a meeting October 10, 6pm at City Hall where Belmont Public Works will be revealing plans for the HAWK beacon and other bike improvements. Please show up and provide your feedback.

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Amazon’s ALB’s do not validate TLS certificates from internal services

If you are using an Amazon Application Load Balancer, and forwarding traffic to internal services using HTTPS, the ALB will not validate the certificate presented by the internal service before forwarding the traffic.

So we're clear here, let's say you are running a web server on Amazon ECS. The webserver is configured to present TLS certificates to incoming requests, receive encrypted TLS traffic. The web server is part of a ELB v2 Target Group. There are two hops in this flow:

  • Customer iPhone/laptop/whatever connects to Amazon ALB. You can upload a certificate to Amazon to present to the customer. The customer's iPhone/browser/whatever will (hopefully) verify that certificate before sending requests to the ALB.

  • The ALB forwards the request to your webserver. ALB will look up the right Listener for the request, and then forward it to a ELB v2 Target Group. You can configure the Target Group to receive requests over HTTP or HTTPS.

  • If you choose HTTPS, the ALB will establish a connection and request a certificate from a random host in the Target Group. It will not validate that certificate; it will just send the traffic.

Here is the configuration for a Target Group. There's no check box for "validate HTTPS traffic from internal service."

The entire point of HTTPS is to encrypt traffic. Otherwise, a random person snooping on the network could present a weak certificate and send back whatever data it wants. We learned in 2014 that the NSA was doing this, between and inside data centers and at key points in the US.

It's unacceptable for a major Internet service in 2018 to blindly accept certificates presented by an internal service without validating them.

For the moment, I suggest using the Network Load Balancer type, which forwards the raw TCP traffic to your machine. You don't get any of the nice features of an ALB, but at least you will have the ability to reject raw traffic. If you know of other providers that offer load balancers with TLS certificate validation, please send me an email.

Update: Please read the reply from AWS.

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Otto LLC Assignment for Benefit of Creditors (bankruptcy)

Twelve days before Christmas 2017, Otto LLC, a company that wanted to produce smart locks, shut down with little notice. Employees were given no severance and contractors were left with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid invoices. This incident was widely covered in the press, and one board member has since quit the venture capital industry.

Otto has sold all of their assets to a company that specializes in liquidation and is now going through an "assignment for benefit of creditors."

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but that said, here is how this works at a high level. Everyone submits their claims to the Assignee. These claims have different levels of priority; people who lent money to the company have one priority, people who are owed money for services have a different priority, people who own shares in the company have a different priority. Generally, all of the claims at one priority are paid out before proceeding to the next class.

The Assignee is required to post notice in a newspaper, that's it - they don't have a requirement to notify you personally. I found the address for submitting claims, though. If Otto owes you money, go here to submit your claim: https://fileaclaim.info/Otto-ABC. You have until November 2, 2018.

Yes, that is the real URL.

I wish you the best of luck, however, I fear that there is not very much money left to pay claims, so you might not get very much. Still, a little bit is better than nothing.

If there are any questions I can answer for you, or if there's anything I can help you do to find a new position, please get in touch.

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Opportunity for more affordable housing in Belmont

Belmont is finalizing plans to build affordable housing on two parcels it owns across from the Caltrain station along El Camino Real. The proposal from the developer, LINC Housing, would construct around 20 large-family affordable units (2 and 3 bedrooms) and 20 senior housing units (one bedroom).

Mockup of proposed BMR project

Belmont reduced the parking requirements for new construction last year as part of the Village Specific Plan update. The large-family units would require 1.5 parking spaces each, and the senior units would require 1 parking space each, for a total of around 50 units. It is likely this parking would have to go underground. At a cost of $60,000 per below-ground parking space, it would cost around $3 million to build all of the required parking below ground, or about 15% of the total cost of the project.

Street layout of proposed BMR project

Changing transportation technology and services are already starting to cut into parking demand in some places (see this story from San Diego).

In the event that the below-ground parking becomes redundant, it will be difficult to repurpose for a more productive use. You can’t build apartments underground, and it’s unattractive space for businesses. So it would be prudent for the city to consider alternatives to building more parking than it may need.

Quite a lot of parking already exists in close proximity to the proposed sites, north of the Caltrain station across the street. A June 2017 Caltrain parking analysis indicated that just 2% of the spaces were occupied on the given weekday.

Caltrain
utilization

I snapped these photos of the lot at 1pm in April 2018.

Empty lot across the street

What if Belmont were to enter into a parking sharing agreement with Caltrain? Caltrain could issue permits to residents of the proposed new development. Even 50 permits would not result in the lot being full, and the extra cars would mostly use the lot at night, when commuters are gone and the Caltrain lot is empty.

There is a precedent here. Caltrain and the City of Mountain View developed a shared parking agreement with a townhouse developer near the San Antonio station, as part of the San Antonio Station Precise Plan.

San Antonio agreement

Using the parking lot across the street would free up about $3 million. What could Belmont do with that money? For $200,000, the city could build a HAWK pedestrian crossing at Hill St, shaving 4 minutes off the walk to the train station and the northbound ECR bus stop. This crossing is proposed in the Belmont Pedestrian Master Plan.

HAWK installation at
Hill Street

Further, lifting the on-site parking requirement might make it feasible to develop Site C (780 El Camino Real), which is owned by the city. LINC Housing's proposal did not include development for this site. A sloped, funky-shaped lot would be a lot easier to develop if it didn't require a parking ramp and additional driveway.

Site C

What do you think? Send your thoughts to the Belmont City Council (CityCouncil@belmont.gov), as well as the city’s project lead, Jennifer Rose (jrose@belmont.gov) and community director, Carlos de Melo (cdemelo@belmont.gov).

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Where is everyone going to live?

In the middle of a housing crisis, cities up and down the Peninsula are moving forward with plans to add a ton of new office space and no new housing. These plans will add many more new commuters, without any corresponding housing for them.

  • Last year the Apple Park launched in Cupertino. 2.8 million sq ft of office space (room for 18,000 workers), no new housing.

  • Brisbane just put a plan for the Baylands on the 2018 ballot. 4 million sq ft of office space (room for 26,000 workers), 2200 housing units.

  • South San Francisco is moving forward with Oyster Point development. 1.5 million sq ft of office space (room for 10,000 workers), 1200 housing units.

  • San Francisco is moving forward with the Central SOMA Plan. 6 million sq ft of office space (room for 40,000 workers), only 7000 housing units.

  • Facebook wants to add 35,000 employees in Menlo Park, with only 1500 housing units to match.

Where are all of those commuters supposed to live? No one is planning on adding housing to match the new office space being added.

We have seen this story play out already. Those rich new workers are going to want apartments near their offices, so they'll bid up the price of existing housing. This will lead to gentrification and displacement. Everyone who can't afford to do that will commute from Pleasanton, Gilroy and Stockton. This will clog 101 and the San Mateo Bridge, leading to even worse traffic.

It cracks me up when folks say "Why doesn't Google just build their next office in Bakersfield?" Your own City Councils are rolling out the red carpet to host their next office, so they can get that sweet revenue, and don't care/don't want to add any housing to match. This is what "local control" has gotten us and the results have been ruinous.

My brother and sister have already left the Bay Area. My best friend grew up 300 yards from me and now is raising his family in Savannah, GA. I'm worried I'm going to be next. All of these new developments are the world's slowest moving steamroller, driving up rent and housing prices. $3m for a home and $4,000 median rents are in our near future.

How can we turn these traffic and displacement bombs around?

  • Call your Senator and Assemblymember to support SB 827, which could actually add enough new housing near transit to reverse our traffic problems and slow the explosive growth of rents.

  • Support new housing in your town. The State is adding bonuses for adding new housing units, but developers are choosing not to use them, for fear of community backlash. Tonight, for example, there's a meeting about 935 homes at Concar Drive at San Mateo City Hall at 7pm, and another at Millbrae City Hall about the Serra Station project adjacent to Millbrae BART. These could use voices in support.

  • If you're someone who does not benefit from a fixed rate mortgage and Prop 13, or if you are and you're worried about where your kids are going to live, consider running for City Council or applying for Planning Commission in your town. Sign up for mailing lists to get notified about new events happening: I run one (kev@inburke.com) or yimbyaction.org/sanmateo.

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